Out of the Blue
Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
And do you know what it’s worth?
By Deborah Salomon
Back in the early ’70s, ABBA sang this catchy tune:
Money, money, money
Must be funny
In the rich man’s world
That, as I recall, was when a dollar was “worth a dollar.”
When kids saved pennies in piggy banks.
When a birthday card from Granny might contain “folding money.”
I never recall seeing a $100 bill until I graduated from high school, in 1956, and received one from family friends, whose children I had babysat, free, since ninth grade. My parents wouldn’t allow me to accept payment. Grrrr.
These days a $100 bill won’t fill a grocery cart.
Not that many people pay with cash. Because money has not only been devalued, but the physical specimens have all but disappeared. I don’t have any statistics on payment methods other than anecdotal. Don’t need any. Just observe at the grocery store or Walmart.
Ever try to buy gas with cash? What a hassle.
The psychology behind this is to encourage spending money you don’t have, since doling it out on the spot isn’t required. Then the card company charges usurious interest on unpaid balances.
I have never paid interest on my two credit cards. The debit card is self-regulating. But I miss seeing money, touching it, counting it out. Like Coke, it’s the real thing.
But, also like Coke, the real thing is changing. I visit my grandsons in Canada often. Their money is a whole different ball game. Years ago, one- and two-dollar bills were eliminated in favor of coins, called loonies and toonies after the bird emblazoned thereon. The success: mixed. The coins — bigger and heavier than a quarter — weigh down purses and pockets. The mentality: a coin isn’t worth that much, therefore thrown around, especially for tips. Pennies were also phased out. Canadian folding money (different colors per amount) doesn’t fold as easily, since it’s made of a polymer that feels slippery-weird but lasts longer.
Even that evokes a pang. Remember the silky texture of a worn-out dollar bill, resembling the thin, crinkled skin on an old person’s hand? Likewise, the newness of a freshly minted $20 bill, so crisp it might be counterfeit? Remember counting out pennies, enclosing them in paper sleeves, which the bank exchanged for dollar bills? Now a machine at the supermarket does the counting.
About stimulus funds. Mine will be direct-deposited and used to pay bills, online. I will never see or touch it, which is par for the course, since I use a debit card for everyday expenses and a credit card for bigger stuff.
This absence has affected phrases like “found money.” How can I forget checking the zipper compartment in a purse headed for Goodwill only to find a bank envelope containing ten $10s? I have no idea the circumstances, or how I could misplace such a sum. But I did. One December I found a card in a parking lot with a $50 bill enclosed, probably a Christmas bonus. I felt terrible, called the police, who told me that without a name or anything to identify the owner, nothing could be done. Advertising would only bring a slew of nuisance, perhaps dangerous calls.
“Keep it,” they told me.
Sorry, I got so wound up in the missing money mystery that I forgot to reference what triggered it. A million dollars used to be the ultimate before millionaires became a dime a dozen. Now, every newscast speaks of billions, even trillions. I learned to respect a $100 bill but have no idea how much a billion of anything is. For perspective, Earth-to-sun is 93 million miles; to Mars, 119 million; to Jupiter, 463 million.
Still haven’t watched the TV show titled “Billions.”
The point — if there be one — is that money has not only lost its value, but its presence. Same for records, books, photographs. Yet there’s hope. Think what a Roman coin is worth to collectors. A papyrus scroll from ancient Egypt. Photos taken during the Civil War. Millions have been made from nickel comic books. Even Mantovani long-plays are, once again, spinning on turntables.
I like ABBA better. PS
Deborah Salomon is a staff writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.